Practical Christianity (Richard Rohr)

When the Christian tradition chose an imperial Christ, living inside the world of static and mythic proclamations, it framed belief and understanding in a very small box. The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth—to the real, historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul. Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.

Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.

Mere information is rarely helpful unless it also enlightens and transforms your life. In Franciscan theology, truth is always for the sake of love—not an absolute end in itself, which too often becomes the worship of an ideology. In other words, any good idea that does not engage the body, the heart, the physical world, and the people around us will tend to be more theological problem solving and theory than any real healing of people and institutions. Ironically, healing is what Jesus was all about!

The word “healing” did not return to mainline Christian vocabulary until the 1970’s, and even then it was widely resisted, which I know from my own experience. [1] In the Catholic tradition, we had pushed healing off to the very last hour of life and called the sacrament “Extreme Unction,” apparently unaware that Jesus provided free health care in the middle of life for people who were suffering, and it was not just an “extreme” measure to get them into the next world.

You wouldn’t guess this from the official creeds but, after all is said and done, doing is more important than believing. Jesus was clearly more concerned with what Buddhists call “right action” (“orthopraxy” in Christianity) than with right saying or right thinking. You can hear this message very clearly in his parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31: One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but then does, while the other says he will go, but in fact doesn’t. Jesus told his listeners that he preferred the one who actually goes, although saying the wrong words, over the one who says the right words but does not act. How did we miss that?

Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human.

Richard Rohr: Right Practice

his Sunday school training could be summed up in one sentence (delivered with a broad Texas drawl): “Jesus is nice, and he wants us to be nice, too.”

.. The word “orthodox” has come to mean having the correct beliefs.

.. Along with the overt requirement to learn what these beliefs are and agree with them comes a subliminal message: that the appropriate way to relate to Jesus is through a series of beliefs. In fundamentalist Christianity this message tends to get even more accentuated, to the point where faith appears to be a matter of signing on the dotted lines to a set of creedal statements. Belief in Jesus is indistinguishable from belief about him.

.. how do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we feel through his heart? How do we learn to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? That’s what Christian orthodoxy really is all about. It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice.

Goodbye, Evangelicalism

Many of these “influencers” have little or no theological education, they haven’t done any Biblical scholarship, but they have wide audiences because they are perceived as authentic or “write from the heart”.

This applies equally to progressive and conservative influencers, I hasten to add. Some of them are very well-expressed, but many of the ideas they share are simply at odds with a Christian worldview.

.. a great many of these people who had been raised on Scripture, prayer, and Sunday School lacked any kind of cohesive Christian worldview. They knew dozens, maybe hundreds, of Bible verses but could not connect them to larger themes or ideas. The problem is that when ideas about sex or greed or whatever are not grounded in a larger framework, it’s easy to simply discard them. “We don’t practice animal sacrifice as Leviticus tells us, so why should I take what it has to say about sex seriously?”

.. the minute that a younger Christian faces cultural pressure because of their beliefs, the inclination is to ask “How important is this particular belief?” rather than “Is my entire framework for living going to collapse if I change?” And what I saw was that despite all the Bible study and whatnot, the culture won almost every time.

.. Even in youth groups, certain kids were held up as role models of what good Christian kids look like, even though the entire county knew those same kids were hammering down beers illegally on Friday night, bragging about stealing, and even discussing sexual adventures on social media. Yet come Sunday they are “walking right with the Lord”. And there seemed to be an invisible but very real pressure among families to present as the Mr. & Mrs. Perfect Christian Family, as if problems don’t exist in truly Christian households.

.. My Evangelical church does almost nothing together except sing. We don’t say any common prayers, or creeds; we don’t confess or repent together; even our Communion ritual is centered around “what Jesus did on the Cross for us”. We don’t do any community events, or really even sponsor any organizations – educational, charitable, whatever – in our area, but leave it to the individual congregants to do that.
In a nutshell, we’re a very atomized, even alienated group.

.. The Evangelical emphasis on right belief is in many respects admirable, but it is also stifling: what if I end up helping someone who isn’t an exact theological copy of me? The horror!

.. we’ve lost 18 legacy members of the church recently, basically the next generation of church leaders, who have all decamped to a newer, slicker church where nobody over the age of 40 is allowed in “public-facing ministry”.

.. my brief and not-at-all comprehensive survey suggests that it’s the 40-60 crowd that likes contemporary praise music; the young people don’t like an awful lot of it because they think it’s “cheesy”, “manipulative”, and “trying too hard”.

.. “We know church music is supposed to be different, so why are they trying so hard to sound like pop music?”

.. our whole church service is focused on the conversion moment, the proverbial altar call.